Diversity is a good thing; it helps make the world go 'round. That pretty much sums up this year's field of candidates for the coveted Sport Truck of the Year award. The field of contestants included entries from every truck manufacturer in America, and even a couple with headquarters outside the country. And judging from the quality of this year's candidates, it's a great time to be in the light-truck business.
Setting The Field
For those of you who are tuning in for the first time, the Sport Truck of the Year competition is open to any manufacturer whose product is new or radically improved for the coming model year. For '04, our test included a full field of players. Right off the top, some of the more notable are the all-new Ford F-150 and Nissan's first entry in the fullsize truck market, the Titan. Also new for '04 is Chevrolet's street-rod-inspired SSR and the heir apparent to the S-10, the Chevrolet Colorado. And then of course there is the long-awaited debut of the Viper-powered Dodge Ram, dubbed SRT-10. On the much-improved side of the coin is the Toyota Tundra, which is now available as a true four-door pickup. Notably absent from this year's field was the GMC version of the Colorado, called the Canyon, which would have brought the field to seven.
The Testing Process
Sport Truck magazine's Sport Truck of the Year testing is divided into two basic parts. The first is hard empirical data from a battery of track tests. The second is data derived from the real meat and potatoes of the test: behind-the-wheel driving impressions from our first-rate staff of testers. We put these trucks through every kind of driving situation imaginable, from day-to-day commuting and long freeways drives to miles on winding mountain roads to test handling and braking under real-world conditions. The idea is to get a feel over the course of two weeks what it's like to live with these trucks over the long haul.
This year's track testing was conducted at California Speedway in Fontana, California, with the help of John Hotchkis, a former race car driver and builder of high-performance suspension components. Hotchkis and his team conducted the 600-foot slalom course testing, while the Sport Truck staff motored the trucks through the 0-60 testing, down the quarter-mile, and through the 60-0 brake testing. We also conducted multiple stops to measure brake fade under extreme conditions. After a long day at the track, the trucks were washed and fueled and the real-world portions of the competition began.
Turn six truck fanatics loose with six brand-spankin'-new pickups on the freeways and roads of Southern California and you've organized chaos - just kidding. Despite what it looked like to unsuspecting motorists, our parade of pickups was on a mission. First stop: the Calico Ghost Town in the Mohave Desert for some photos. Part of the San Bernardino County Park system, Calico is a former mining town that's now more of a tourist stop than anything else. Its Old West setting was the perfect location for the lead photo in our annual Truck of the Year Shootout. The 100-mile drive also gave us a chance to test both the power and speed limits of the trucks, along with ride quality and how well the A/C performed in 100-degree heat. Our next destination on the Highway to Hell was up through the mountains north of Los Angeles to Lake Arrowhead.
During the extensive driving portion of the testing, all six testers got full rotations behind the wheel of each pickup. We learned the good, the bad, and the ugly on each. Some we liked, others we didn't, and a couple we liked a lot. Keep turning the pages to see how we ranked this year's crop of candidates and to find out what truck took home the gold.
Sport Truck of the Year Score
To determine the Sport Truck of the Year we performed a series of objective performance tests in addition to evaluating the vehicles subjectively. In other words, some tests we can measure - for example, 0-60 mph, 1/4-mile e.t., 60-0-mph braking, and speed through the 600-foot slalom course. Other tests are more a matter of putting a value on an educated opinion, such as styling, choice of materials, powertrain integration and refinement, and so on.
We organized our test results to judge the truck in three basic categories: Objective performance is worth 40 percent of the score; subjective performance is worth 30 percent of the score; and subjective judgments on style, ergonomics, and other conveniences are also worth 30 percent of the score. An example of a perfect score in the objective portion of the test would be a vehicle that had the quickest acceleration, shortest stopping distances, and was rated to tow the most weight. That would give it 60 points, which is then scaled by multiplying it by 40 percent to get 24 points. Sixty points are also up for grabs in the other two categories, but these are scaled to 30 percent of the score, or a maximum of 18 points each.
Weighting the scoring in this manner rewards powerful trucks that accelerate quickly, brake forcefully, handle well, and produce good ride quality. A vehicle that's mostly style and comfort with very little performance will score poorly.
Apples and OrangesIt was apparent from the beginning that we would be testing two distinctively different types of trucks in our annual Truck of the Year competition: four-door pickups for the masses, because that's the fastest growing segment in the light pickup market; and limited-production performance pickups. Sure, it was an apples and oranges situation, but, hey, we're simply reporting on the types of new trucks being manufactured.
As the testing continued, it became obvious that the performance pickups cleaned house on the track and through the mountains, while living with them on a daily basis revealed some drawbacks not found in the other testers. By the end of the test, the Dodge SRT-10 was ahead on points and was well liked by all the staff members. Our group of testers also put things into perspective by indicating the SRT-10 is not for everyone, especially with a limited production and a $40,000-plus price tag.
It rapidly became clear that the Dodge needed to be recognized for what it is: the best damn performance pickup we've driven. It joins the Ford Lightning in that category as the only limited-production, purpose-built performance pickup.
So to honor the accomplishments of Dodge's Performance Vehicle Operations engineers who took a run-of-the-mill, 5,000-pound pickup and gave it the handling characteristics and the power of a Viper, we honored the SRT-10 with Sport Truck's first-ever Performance Pickup of the Year Award.
'04 Chevrolet Colorado
Little Truck With Big Appeal
The '04 Chevy Colorado midsize pickup is the fifth runner-up in this year's competition. Chevy's first entry into the midsize truck segment replaces the long-running and highly successful S-10 compact. The Colorado we tested was a slickly styled four-door pickup with a front end that mimics its fullsize brother, the Silverado. The body is a clean design with smooth lines and excellent form; that is, until you get to the front where the lower plastic valance throws off the look. Chevrolet molded the lower valance out of color-matched plastic (for durability we assume) that doesn't quite match, but it's nothing a little paint can't cure.
The inline-five engine sounds pretty good, but it reverberates through the cab around 2,000 rpm. The five slugs don't provide a lot of out-of-the-gate pep, but at freeway speeds it pulls just fine up to the computer-governed top speed of 96 mph.
Our test truck came equipped with the ZQ8 suspension, which includes lower-profile rubber and a low stance, resulting in a quick response that helped it rip through the corners. But that also made the ride a little choppy and firm, but since this was the performance suspension package, that is to be expected. As for the transmission crossmember, it is bolted to the bottom of the frame and hangs way down; that will pose a problem with ground clearance if you want to lower the truck.
Inside the cab, the Colorado offers several welcomed changes from the S-10; namely a flat floor and increased legroom. The front seats retract rearward so far that a 7-foot-tall giant could practically drive from the back seat. The interior, as one of our editors put it, "looks like its right out of an '80s Cavalier," devoid of class and detail. The truck comes with the standard GM head unit but with one added feature built in: XM Radio, which provided more than 100 stations to enjoy. The sound system rocked with the best of them, missing only a powered sub to really crank. The rear-seat headrests cover at least 40 percent of the rear window and really cut down on visibility; it would have been nice if they were smaller or removable.
The Colorado is a nice, roomy truck that will really get you where you want to go without killing you at the pump. With some attention and some aftermarket hop-ups, this truck will easily take the place of the S-10.
Sport Truck of the Year Score
Acceleration: 6.8 of 24 possible
Ride and Handling: 12.7 of 18 possible
Ergonomics/Style/Build Quality: 11.96 of 18 possible
Total: 31.46 of 60 possible
The Chevy Colorado was hit hard in the performance testing. It's not that it's exceedingly slow; it just got hammered because we award performance points on a curve, so if you test with fast company (SRT-10), you're penalized in the scoring. In fact, the only bright spots in this category for the Colorado was that it was third fastest through the slalom, had decent towing capacity, and had just slightly below-average braking. Its ride and handling scores were pretty good, and it also fared well in terms of creature comforts, styling, and build quality.
* Decent power; great tranny programming
* Lots of front legroom and flat floor
* XM radio; great customizing potential
* Transmission crossmember will inhibit lowering the truck down
* Cheezy, cheap plastic interior
* Where's the 300hp six-cylinder from the Trailblazer? Why five cylinders?
'04 Ford F-150 SuperCrew Lariat
The Cowboy Cadillac Comes of Age
By the numbers, the Ford F-150 has been America's best-selling pickup for the past 20 years. Critics would charge, Why mess with success? But when it came time to freshen up Ford's bread-and-butter vehicle, designers went back to the drawing board and came up with an all-new pickup - bolder, stronger, bigger, better. There's so much new stuff on this truck that space doesn't allow us to tell you about all of it, but we did provide the complete rundown in the Nov. '03 issue.
In a nutshell, the truck is new from the ground on up: a new hydroformed frame, a reworked suspension for better ride and handling, and styling that fits somewhere between the old F-150 and the Ford Super Duty. Ford is the first to offer a four-door regular cab pickup and the first to have roll-down second-row windows in the SuperCab model. The new F-150 is offered in five different models and wheelbases, three cab configurations, all with four doors. The F-150 is also offered in two bed styles and is sold with two Triton V-8s, the newest of which is a three-valve version of the venerable 5.4L, which is now rated at 300 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque.
Aside from its new outward appearance and upgraded driveline and underpinnings, the F-150 boasts one of the roomiest cabs in the industry. Our tester was the full-zoot Lariat SuperCrew model outfitted in leather captain's chairs with the optional flow-through center console and floor-mounted shifter. While the seats could use a little more lateral support, the interior of the Ford ranked at the top of the list in terms of room and comfort. It was also one of the quietest rides of the group.
It's no secret that the new F-150 is aimed directly at the general truck buyer. Unfortunately, our Truck of the Year test weighs heavily on performance and this is one department where the truck scored below par. Despite having a new three-valve engine with noticeably more power, the added size and weight of the new truck seems to negate any overall engine performance improvement. In fact, we thought the engine was lacking in the power department. While it had great grunt from the hit of the throttle, it was lacking in the midrange, but came back strong above 3,800 rpm. And with other makes boasting power figures in the 350 range, we felt Ford could have upped the ante.
On the plus side, the ride and handling qualities of the big Ford were good, even when pushed to tire-squealing limits. A smooth ride, combined with a quiet cabin, makes this truck the long-distance winner in any book. Unfortunately, the Ford scored poorly in the brake testing, with cold stops in the 150-foot range. While pedal feel was good around town and the braking is excellent in most situations, hauling the big beast down from freeway speeds takes some extra room.
Overall, we found the new F-150 had all the potential to be an excellent choice for Truck of the Year, but it came up short in areas where it counted: power and braking. The redesign will elicit a love-it-or-hate-it reaction, while the interior room and apportionments are class-leading all the way. And the new SuperCrew has more leg and head room than its GM counterparts. In the end, we feel that the new version of the F-150 will still keep Ford at the top of the pickup truck sales charts for years to come.
Sport Truck of the Year Score
Acceleration: 8.4 of 24 possible
Ride and Handling: 11.76 of 18 possible
Ergonomics/Style/Build Quality: 13.23 of 18 possible
Total: 33.40 of 60 possible
The new F-150's lack of power and longer cold-stop braking distance gave it a very low score in the portion of our testing with the most value. It was fastest of the fullsize crew in the slalom and scored good marks in the subjective evaluation of drivetrain performance and ride and handling, indicating a good-handling pickup with enough in reserve to make towing all of its 9,500-pound maximum a reasonably comfortable affair. In terms of comfort, styling, and build quality, its score placed it third overall behind the Titan and the SRT-10.
* Luxurious and roomy Interior
* Soft ride; compliant suspension
* Excellent model and cab configurations
* Needs more power
* Needs better brakes
* Lack of sporty exterior styling in 2WD SuperCrew Lariat
'04 Toyota Tundra Double Cab
Four Doors, More Cabin Space, and Near-Luxury Ride Quality
Toyota has finally built what some think is its first real fullsize pickup, the '04 Tundra Double Cab. The Tundra platform has been winning over truck buyers for a number of years, and this incarnation has grown in length to equal trucks currently offered by the Big Three. The Double Cab is an exciting entry into an already competitive fullsize truck market, and it's available with some exciting and innovative new features to entice domestic truck buyers. Our test model came armed for battle with a supercharged V-8 engine, an extra-deep cargo area, and even a roll-down, limousine-type rear window. Its performance during our testing backed up the hype that this truck is ready to take on anything.
The most notable change to the Tundra is the double cab, which offers seating for as many as five adults. As with most import trucks, the Double Cab has a flat floor, making it good for cargo management. Oddly, though, the addition of the double cab doesn't seem to have increased the front-seat legroom; instead, the additional space in the cab has translated into a very comfortable rear seat. In a move that beautifully blends form and function, Toyota outfitted our Double Cab with a roll-down rear window. This little gem was well-received by our team for its simplicity, its smooth operation, and for just being cool.
The next feature we drooled over was the supercharged 4.7L V-8 engine. The TRD-equipped small-block never lacked for power throughout our testing, and the additional grunt provided by the blower made a noticeable difference compared with the stock engine. The e.t.'s might not reflect this, however, because although the transmission shifted smoothly, we did notice that it paused slightly between shifts, possibly in an effort to save its internals from destruction by the wrath of the powerplant.
The Tundra had one of the most accommodating suspensions of the trucks tested, offering a car-like ride on the freeway. The pliable underpinnings made the truck glide across bridges and rough pavement without bucking; a nice character trait to have on long trips. For our purposes, though, the ride quality was a bit too mushy. We looked for cornering performance, but found that the Tundra pushed through the corners because of the soft suspension and tires.
In the styling department, the Tundra picks up where it left off with the '03 model. There aren't any drastic changes up front, other than the addition of two doors to the cab. The rear of the truck, though, has received a completely new bed. This fullsize bed measures 6 feet 4.5 inches long and more than 21 inches deep. Our test team praised the Tundra's extra-deep bed for offering more room to haul a load, especially odd-sized cargo. The new Tundra Double Cab is worth a test drive, but be prepared to shell out an extra $5,000 to add the TRD supercharger.
Sport Truck of the Year Score
Acceleration: 14.8 of 24 possible
Ride and Handling: 14.38 of 18 possible
Ergonomics/Style/Build Quality: 12.99 of 18 possible
Total: 42.6 of 60 possible
The Tundra Double Cab's acceleration performance score was artificially inflated. However, given that the TRD supercharger is virtually a factory option - and when installed by a dealer is fully warranted - and the fact that our readers are more likely than not to supercharge their truck, we felt it was valid to test it. The D-Cab isn't the most agile truck; it scored second to last in the slalom, but it accelerates quickly, brakes well, and has an above-average maximum tow rating of 7,100 pounds. Our tester's powertrain wasn't quite as smooth as the naturally aspirated versions, but it's still very good, and when combined with a great-riding and decent-handling chassis, it scored very well indeed in this part of the evaluation. It also scored very high in terms of comfort, style, and build quality.
* Good ergonomics; cool roll-down rear window
* Blower adds ton of torque, bringing the power to weight in line with expectations
* Excellent ride on freeway; no chop at cruise speed
* As with most Toyotas, flat floor, shy on front legroom
* Tacoma switches are too small for fullsize truck; Taurus-style center pod on dash
* Slow handling because of length and wheelbase; underpowered without blower
'04 Chevrolet SSR
If We scored on Charisma alone, Chevy's Super Sport Roadster Would Blow Away the CompetitionWhen the design team at General Motors set out to create a uniquely designed vehicle, it wanted to transverse traditional styling, bring back the early '50s contour and form, and pull performance elements from the best of the automotive markets. What the team ended up with was a convertible hot-rod truck that handled like a luxury sports car, but didn't lack the cargo room of one.
Built off the Trailblazer chassis and motivated by a 300hp all-aluminum Vortec V-8 powerplant, the limited-production SSR transfers power to the rear wheels via an electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission. To get our own impression of the truck, we spent a few hundred hours road-testing the SSR in real-world situations.
During our road test, we were able to admire the passing ability of the SSR on the freeways and feel its prowess in the long twists and turns of the mountain roads. Almost everywhere we took this truck, we were the center of attention. Cameras - both still and video - accompanied by fingers were constantly pointed at the SSR, solidifying our notion that this could very well be the ultimate weekend-cruise-night truck.
The cockpit of the SSR fits the truck with its sweeping console, which carries the body color through the interior, and pod-style gauges; however, we found that the interior doesn't appear to fit the driver. Many of the controls, such as the heater adjustments, are just out of reach, and the trip odometer, which is angled below the instrument cluster, is virtually impossible to read. Powered seat controls, located on the side of each bucket seat, were not accessible unless the doors were open, and due to the lack of armrests, we were constantly searching for a place to relax our arms.
A set of 19-inch wheels fills the front fenders and 20-inch rolling stock was chosen for the rear. The suspension is tuned from the factory with a slight rake, which unfortunately reduced rear visibility when backing up. With the hard top up, that visibility decreased even more and a sufficient amount of road noise was present. However, the point remains that it's a convertible truck, so we got over it.
The six-disc in-dash CD player ensured that we weren't searching for road tunes as we carved our way through city traffic, and the sound system, although not equipped with a separate subwoofer, provided full sound regardless of whether the top was up or down. It's safe to say that if you're looking to get noticed and have a pocket book that supports a $40,000 price tag, this is the toy you've been waiting for.
Sport Truck of the Year Score
Acceleration: 17.2 of 24 possible
Ride and Handling: 14.15 of 18 possible
Ergonomics/Style/Build Quality: 12.05 of 18 possible
Total: 43.41 of 60 possible
The Chevy SSR was the second-quickest truck we tested, was third in braking performance, and was second only to the SRT-10 in the slalom. The only negative aspect of its performance in this portion of the test was a meager 2,500-pound tow rating. In the powertrain ride and handling evaluation it placed third behind the Titan, SRT-10 and Toyota; not bad for a roadster with the structural weakness that comes with full access to the sky. In terms of ergonomics, style, and fit and finish, its reliance on style over substance hurt it some, putting it in fifth slot in this evaluation category.
* The SSR definitely leads the pack in the "wow" category
* Great packaging of the aluminum V-8 and rear-wheel-drive power
* It possesses one of the best factory exhaust growls we've heard
* Emphasis in the interior of form over function
* The stance of the SSR needs to be lower and with less rake
* The need for crowd control when driving or parking
'04 Dodge SRT-10
Baddest Sport Truck On the Planet
When asked why Dodge built the SRT-10, Dodge PVO Director, Dan Knott, replied, "because we can." That's as good a reason as any, and we're completely up on the cam that the company did, because the '04 Dodge Ram SRT-10 is so good that we created a special award for it.
The Dodge Ram SRT-10 is the first recipient of the Sport Truck Performance Truck of the Year award. If you ask why we're creating this new award, we could reply, "because we can." But there's more to it than that. As the truck market continues to be a hot profit center and the last bastion of rear-wheel drive performance, it's also getting more and more competitive, so we fully expect "halo" performance trucks to become common enough to warrant recognition of their efforts. And Dodge has built the quickest fullsize performance pickup ever. It tops the Lightning, the first truck worthy of the title, and raises the bar for this emerging factory-built niche market.
The '04 Dodge Ram SRT-10's formula is simple. First, use the Viper V-10 and its 500 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque backed with the Viper six-speed manual transmission to provide neck-snapping acceleration. Second, tune a suspension that'll handle the torque and the corners while providing a firm but comfortable ride. Next, give it brakes that'll save you from yourself and styling worthy of the engineering contained in the wrapper. And finally, step up in the audio department and put a system in the truck with the guts to race with the beast.
Yes, the formula for a factory hot-rod truck is simple, but executing the formula is anything but. And the Dodge PVO team deserves a standing ovation for its work on this truck. To prove the high-quality of the team's execution, our test Ram SRT-10 ripped from 0-60 mph in 5.37 seconds, while it rocketed through the quarter-mile in 13.12 seconds at 108 mph. It'd easily run a 12-second e.t. with a set of slicks, and we know of no other factory truck that'd be able to use a set of slicks right out of the box. We base this assertion on the consistency of the suspension and lack of axle hop on successive leaves at the dragstrip. The unique third shock over the axle differential controls the axle wrap perfectly.
With a claimed top speed of more than 150 mph, this truck recalibrates all expectations of a factory performance sport truck. Our tester ran as high as 145 mph and was still pulling, but we ran out of track before reaching terminal velocity. Not only is this truck blindingly quick, but it shreds corners like no other truck on the market. It slashed its way through the slalom course at 62.5 mph - the fastest we've ever tested - and in the cold-stop test hauled its 5,100-pound mass from 60-0 mph in just 138.83 feet with nearly fade-proof brakes. In fact, the brake fade score was better than the cold stop. No other truck in the test was able to duplicate that performance. In response to the Ram SRT-10, our hired hot-shoe and suspension whiz, John Hotchkis, was completely impressed, and with characteristic understatement, noted that this Dodge raises the sport truck game to a new level.
The '04 Dodge Ram SRT-10 is the ultimate performance pickup. In addition to its segment-smashing performance stats, it has a refined sport-styled interior equal to any sports sedan. Its seating is appropriately aggressive and seamlessly blends lateral support with comfort, and its thumpin' 500-watt audio system with a subwoofer is tuned to meet audiophile expectations. As one staffer noted, "I never wanted to get out of this truck. All you really need to know about this truck is that you can shift out of Third gear at 120 mph and you still have three gears left!" That should more than justify the opening MSRP of $45,000.
Sport Truck of the Year Score
Acceleration: 19.2 of 24 possible
Ride and Handling: 15.75 of 18 possible
Ergonomics/Style/Build Quality: 14.83 of 18 possible
Total: 49.78 of 60 possible
The Dodge Ram SRT-10 rocks. See above for details.
* Awesome torque; easy to short shift around town
* Great grip all the time, thanks to 22s and Pirellis
* Great brakes; great seats; killer sounds; like the formula: 500hp/500-lb-ft/500 watts; cool push-button start
* Shifter way too long; needs to be shortened for more positive Second-Third shifting
* Needs crossover pipe
* Lose the wing in favor of a tonneau with spoiler a l NASCAR Craftsman Truck
'04 Nissan Titan Crew Cab
Powerful and Brilliantly Tuned Drivetrain, Innovative Interior, and Impressive Handling Earn Nissan's First FullSize Pickup the Title 2004 Sport Truck of the Year
The '04 Nissan Titan Crew Cab is our Sport Truck of the Year. And before we impart our impressions of the virtues of Nissan's newest, we have to give kudos to the Nissan design team. The designers apparently did a Vulcan mind-meld on a specific segment of the fullsize domestic truck buyer - essentially a younger, more adventurous, and style-conscious buyer - because the Titan seems to have materialized directly from the sport-trucking aspirations of that buyer.
Moreover, Nissan's demographic profile describes, with the accuracy of a JDAM, the Sport Truck magazine staff and its readers. We say this because after spending several days driving all the new pickups, it was the obvious favorite of the test crew. We credit Titan's power, handling, and interior design to make it the gotta-drive truck in the 2004 Sport Truck of the Year competition, and hence, the champion.
Exterior: That the Titan won in spite of that fact that its exterior styling was not its strong point is a testament to the overall superiority of the truck compared with its peers. In fact, the styling of the nose was a slight negative with all the staff. But the fact that the designers put the emphasis on function allowed us to suspend our initial harsh judgments regarding some of the external styling cues long enough to begin appreciating the integrity of the whole design. The innovative "wide-open" rear doors, which swing open nearly 180 degrees on the King Cab models, are perhaps the most significant of these, but the innovative cargo bed, with its employment of several aftermarket tactics for load management and convenience, was also impressive.
For example, the bed features factory-applied spray-in bedliner and a "utili-track" bed channel system that provides adjustable, aluminum-alloy tie-down cleats and optional accessory racks, trays, dividers, and modular storage systems. The truck's bed also comes with a unique lockable, climate-resistant bedside storage compartment located immediately behind the driver-side rear wheelwell, with a two-position adjustable tray and removable rubber mat. And to make managing cargo in low or no light easier, the Titan design team worked in cargo area light with tailgate illumination and a bed-mounted, 12-volt utility powerpoint. Most of these features are sourced from the aftermarket, and our judgment is that Nissan skimmed the products most popular with active-lifestyle sport truck owners. If you're going to borrow ideas, you may as well borrow the best.
Interior: Titan's interior was a hit with most of our testers; though the younger members of the staff were much more attracted to the styling. As cool as the console-mounted shifter is, the dj vu quality between it and the F-150 was uncanny. Though we think the materials choice and the overall interior design of the F-150 Lariat was superior, the cockpit of the Nissan Titan is so packed with great features that we predict even hard-core American fullsize truck buyers will have to take a long hard look at this made-in-America "foreign" pickup.
Most of our testers remarked on the sense of space in the cockpit and the comfort of the power-adjustable heated front seats. And the driver-seat memory system, which moves the seat away from the steering wheel when you open the door and slides it back in position after the door is closed, is just one of those luxury touches you don't expect in a pickup. We appreciated the fullsize door handles, knobs, and steering wheel that Nissan says is specifically designed for operation with work gloves; these features make manipulating the HVAC and audio system much less distracting, making driving the truck more enjoyable and safer. But perhaps the most appreciated little detail was the power front window with one-touch up and down functions; several testers raved about the convenience of this feature.
We were also big fans of the thought put into cargo management and storage inside the Titan. Examples abound of the great benefits derived from attention to detail. The flip-up rear-seat cushions add a space shuttle worth of cargo space by making great use of the near-flat rear floor. Grocery hooks on the bottom of the seat cushions, a cargo bin, cup holders, oversize assist grips, and a coat hanger system all added to the appreciation of this new truck. And did we mention the generously sized rear seats? The Titan has comfortable fullsize rear seats that position the rear passengers slightly higher than the front row, allowing them a decent view of the road.
Powertrain: What most impressed us is the Titan's Nissan Endurance 5.6L DOHC V-8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. The engine produces 305 hp and 379 lb-ft of torque backed by a standard five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with manual shift and tow/haul modes, and this 2WD version uses the very "trucky" Dana 44 axle. The combination proved potent, but not that quick. In fact, it was third behind the SRT-10 and just 1/10 second off the supercharged Toyota Double Cab Tundra's quarter-mile e.t. However, it was so smooth and driveable, which made up for the slight deficit against its supercharged competition. One of our testers put it this way: "The motor is a beautiful, aluminum powerhouse that keeps on pulling and pulling. The transmission is so smooth that I thought it was direct drive with no shifting."
This is hands down the smoothest, most elegantly tuned powertrain we've experienced in a truck. The engine is big enough to produce good low-end torque, and with its DOHC and four valves per cylinder, it makes power all the way to the rev limit. The transmission shifts seamlessly between gears, always selecting the right gear for the speed and load. The integration of engine and transmission performance is at a level equal to that of the best luxury sedans. It's a little out of place in a pickup, but you sure get used to it, making competitive models seem crude by comparison.
Handling and Braking: The Titan features a very modern and effective suspension, consisting of an all-steel double-wishbone suspension on the nose and power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. The rear suspension is a dual-rate rigid leaf spring with shackles mounted along the frame sides to afford more ground clearance. Our test Titan came with the optional 8.0x18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and 265/70R18 tires. It also had the available tire pressure monitor system as well as the four-wheel disc brakes with Bosch antilock braking system (ABS) and vehicle dynamic control (VDC) with brake-activated limited-slip traction control.
Even with all that technology, the Titan still scored about mid pack in our slalom. The F-150 is an ever-so-slightly better-handling truck than the Titan as evidenced by the Ford's 56.02-mph slalom speed compared with the 55-mph flat (the slowest of trucks tested) for the Titan. Much of the deficit in this test comes from the Titan's mud-and-snow-style tires.
Our ringer slalom driver, John Hotchkis, noted that the Titan felt heavier than both the F-150 and the Tundra Double Cab, even though the throttle response and powertrain performance were topnotch. Hotchkis didn't notice, nor did we, during the subsequent slip-and-slide drives through the slalom whether the VDC was doing much. We were on the edge, but no so far that the system had to activate, which to us is a significant positive. We don't like such systems to intrude on the sport-driving experience, and this system was seamless.
It was braking, however, that proved to be the Titan's strong suit; in fact, it has the best brakes of the bunch. It scored the shortest 60-0-mph cold-stop distance and the least amount of brake fade; two important categories that made up for its mid-level 0-60-mph and quarter-mile performances. The Bosch ABS worked flawlessly in the test as well as in the spirited driving over the course of the road test.
Summary: In reviewing the scoring, it is telling that the factors that made the '04 Nissan our choice for Sport Truck of the Year were not its raw, straight-line acceleration and agility through the slalom. It placed mid pack in acceleration to speed and dead last in the slalom. But it had the best brakes and the second-highest towing rating, which allowed it to score 40 out of a possible 60 points in the objective performance part of our test regime. This part of the test counts for 40 percent of the score, so it is critical. In the subjective portion of the performance evaluation - i.e. how the truck felt to our testers in terms of ride quality, handling, powertrain response, and refinement - it scored nearly 53 points out of a possible 60. The Titan also scored 52 points from a possible 60 points in the subjective scoring of the interior and exterior styling and fit and finish of the vehicle, a category that counts for 30 percent of the score.
These scores show that Nissan packed far more style and innovative features into the Titan than the other trucks tested. A short list of some of its most-liked features include the in-dash navigation, spray-in bedliner, bedside storage compartment, and huge interior. The front seats offer class-leading comfort, and the cab is huge, with flexible storage and cargo management options that'd make a minivan envious. Combine these very desirable features with the smoothest powertrain, the best brakes in the class, an estimated MSRP of $36,400-$38,400 for a heavily equipped Titan Crew Cab, such as the one tested, and you've got the 2004 Sport Truck of the Year.
Sport Truck of the Year Score
Acceleration: 16 of 24 possible
Ride and Handling: 15.83 of 18 possible
Ergonomics/Style/Build Quality: 15.6 possible
Total: 47.43 of 60 possible
Nissan's '04 Titan was strong in all areas of our test and evaluations. This was the mass production truck everyone on the staff wanted to drive, and therefore wins our Sport Truck of The Year award for 2004.
* Great powertrain; wonderful exhaust note, incredible powerband; magnificent five-speed automatic
* Excellent use of storage space; innovative interior and cargo bed cargo management
* Good instrumentation, DVD player, sunroof, on-board GPS navigation, subwoofer - it doesn't get any better than this
Dislikes:* Front window not high enough -looking through sun strip...high seating position
* Front-end styling; mini-van style engine compartment; bed too short for fullsize truck
* Front seats need more side bolster support